What is a Luddite?

It’s difficult for me to write about a controversial topic like electric vehicles, cord cutting, or renewable energy without using the term “Luddite.” Recently, my wife’s cousin commented on one of my blog posts regarding Blu-ray players: “I am a real Luddite…I have to read directions to play a DVD…so, what is a Blu-ray?”

I explained that she isn’t a Luddite, but merely ignorant of the topic (a neophyte, if you will—although this label implies she’s already embraced the new system). I realized that, if I’m going to be throwing this somewhat misunderstood historical term around like a drunk college kid hitting on people at a frat party, I might want to provide a bit of definition and clarity.

According to Wikipedia, “The Luddites were 19th-century English textile artisans who protested against newly developed labour-replacing machinery from 1811 to 1817. The stocking frames, spinning frames and power looms introduced during the Industrial Revolution threatened to replace the artisans with less-skilled, low-wage labourers, leaving them without work. Although the origin of the name Luddite is uncertain, a popular theory is that the movement was named after Ned Ludd, a youth who allegedly smashed two stocking frames in 1779, and whose name had become emblematic of machine destroyers.”

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We’re living in a period in which the introduction of disruptive technology is faster and more pervasive than at any time in the history of the world. We used to call it paradigm shift. Now we love the term “disruption.” Whatever the label du jour, it’s a way of describing the merciless onslaught of myriad digital technologies, social media networks, next-gen transportation models, and brilliant biotech breakthroughs.

And then there’s the old guard. The folks who profit from and control the outdated legacy tech used by millions or billions of people; the corporate status quo and their political allies. They don’t easily release their grasp on our lives—or our wallets. Plain and simple, Luddites are protectionists. They’re the mob heavy standing on the corner who sneers, “Beat it, kid. This is our block.”

I’m sure the entrenched, wealthy powers that controlled horses and buggies were freaked out by the first automobiles. It’s clearly evident that television intimidated the hell out of film makers and cinema owners in the 1950s (it explains the plethora of experimental aspect ratio introductions to differentiate cinema from TV’s 4:3 format). Heck, I wouldn’t doubt if whiskey companies were a bit alarmed by the invention of the hypodermic needle prior to the civil war—fast-acting morphine being the disruptor.

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Luddites are everywhere. Ebook authors Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler write about the desperate and short-sighted efforts of those in the legacy publishing industry. Automobile industry Luddites have grabbed headlines recently for their successful campaigns to halt test drives and sales of electric cars in Iowa and Michigan. Cable companies like Time Warner and Cox are acting like Luddites in their attempts to keep you from cutting the cord and using only streaming services like Netflix and Hulu Plus. And, of course, the very Ludditist Koch Brothers and Big Oil will do their best to prevent folks from obtaining new tech like electric cars and power from sustainable sources like solar, wind, and nuclear energy. Despite superior (and affordable) alternatives, fracking continues unabated.

Bloggers and writers, both professional and amateur alike, need to focus on how easily their communications are understood, not necessarily impressing readers with big words. But in a time of severe disruption and technological advancement—and the displacement of entrenched old-school corporate and political players—terms like “Luddite” are more necessary than ever.

Stay vigilant, dear readers. Don’t let the Luddites destroy the new digital looms.

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

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